Thursday, October 29, 2015

What my nature journaling really looks like

Photo by my daughter Emma

Yes, it would have been easier to pack up the pencils, call it a morning, and start in on lunch preparations.  But instead I stuck it out at the table after helping the three boys with their journal entries, wrote my entry and sketched my maple leaf, all the while trying to keep my journal in place and my pencils (and toddler!) on the table.  Yes, the table isn't where we generally encourage children to sit, but it was far easier to draw with her there than on my lap.  And in the end, I succeeded.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

From My Commonplace: Contemplation and Action

The activist may think himself the cutting edge of the future, but if he is not a mystic, he is frightfully narrow—and part of the narrowness is that he may not possess even a small suspicion of his myopia. [...] Rare indeed is the man or woman who, as Vatican II put it, is “eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation”
Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within

The Thinker, Rodin

Have you ever tried actually sitting in the position of Rodin's The Thinker?

We recently studied this sculpture as part of our artist study of Auguste Rodin.  During our study, we all tried this position and I suddenly had a new understanding of what it means to be "eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation."

Give it a try and see what you think.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nature Walks, Nature Journaling and the Fight to be the Teacher I Want to Be

When I think back over the conference I attended in Seattle, I think there were two encompassing ideas that encouraged and inspired me the most.  The first was a greater understanding of the idea that education is a long term endeavor.  It isn't a matter of a particular book or event or a week of diligent work - or even a year of diligence.  It is many years of regular work, many attempts to do what is right and to keep continuing to press on, even in the face of whiny children, lack of progress, frustration and fatigue.

The second is something that Brandy said at the end of her first talk, that we have to fight to become the teacher we want to be.  This business of trying to lead a rich life full of living ideas and active engagement with those ideas is not an easy one.  It would be much easier to hand out iPads or workbooks to everyone and focus largely on building skills.  Sure, the kids would balk at times to the tedium, but we could push through the work quickly and then move onto whatever else we want to do or needs to get done.  

I thought about both of these things as I sat in the airport on Sunday evening, considering the day I wanted to share with the children when I got back.  I knew I would be home late, and the kids could be a little clingy or overexcited when they saw me again on Monday.  My first impulse - and the one I had planned on doing before the conference - was to get everyone's checklists squared away at the airport, plan my week on the plane, and then jump back into a regular day first thing Monday morning.

But as I considered what I had experienced at the conference, what I had heard and learned and discussed, I wasn't so sure that was what I really wanted to do.  I wasn't sure that was really the best way to draw our family together again after our separation.  I also wanted to bring a little of that post-conference glow into our family life and draw out the conference experience just a little longer.

A banana slug - the slugs around here look just like banana slugs, except they are more of a grey-ish or brown-ish color rather than yellow.
I resolved to postpone our morning time from 8 to 9 and cancel our usual morning activities to take a walk with the kids - a walk that has never gone well with all five children, as it is about a half a mile downhill to the creek, and then of course a steep half a mile back home.  I wasn't sure what they would think of visiting the creek, dry for several months due to the drought.  Would it still be interesting if they couldn't throw rocks in the water?  And I wasn't sure at all how I was going to get my four year old and 21 month old back up the hill if they both fell apart.

Somehow this hill looks a lot steeper in person.  Or perhaps it is the company?
I directed the children to find something to bring home to sketch in their neglected nature journals. I cringed inside as I said it, expecting to hear the chorus of groans that the nature journal usually invokes.  All the children were glad for this opportunity, and even intrigued by my direction to pick something to bring home and sketch.  Is it possible I haven't done this before?  Or has it been so long they have forgotten?  Most of my memories are of dismal failures trying to sketch in the field...  so perhaps it is a common idea that I dismissed out of hand and prematurely.

We had a wonderful walk, and the children were fascinated by the dry creek bed.  We were able to walk up it a ways, discovering 22 banana slugs in the creek bed, marveling at the plants already starting to grow amongst the rocks in the bed, finding a few lingering blackberries and noticing several riparian trees we had not noticed before.  Justin, my four year old, collected a leaf he wanted to sketch, and Gregory (9) found about a half dozen things he wanted to add to his journal.  Nathan (7) was an eager looker, but wasn't sure what he wanted to sketch.  In the end he decided he would use one of his brother's items.  Emma (13) found a maple seed to sketch, and I tore off a small section of an uninhabited paper wasp's nest we found on the ground on our way to the creek bed.

Scouring the creek bed for slugs
We toiled back up the hill, the older boys running ahead, Justin trailing behind and needing a lot of cajoling and encouragement to get back up the hill, Emma offering a steady stream of observations and interest, and Hannah at first being content in the stroller before deciding she really would rather be carried.  She ended up strapped in the stroller against her will and I somehow managed to push it back up the hill while she cried and fussed.  She quickly calmed down when we got home, and everyone set to work on their entries with good cheer.  Gregory, much to my surprise, decided to draw all the specimens he brought home, and Justin was adamant that I help him trace his leaf for his nature journal.  I, thinking of Brandy's talk, helped him to extend his attention a little longer and he made several excellent additional observations and added more detail and color to his tracing.  There was some whining when it came time to label the pictures from one child in particular, but we pushed through and made it work.

It wasn't the idyllic, everything is wonderful and joyous sort of excursion that I, in my more unreasonable moments, am sure that everyone but me gets to have, but it was not the disaster I had imagined either.  Instead it was an in the trenches, trying to do the work sort of outing that I need to keep bringing into our lives.

This post doesn't seem complete without some sharing from our nature journals, so I asked the kids if I could post pictures and they graciously agreed.

Justin (4) - Black Oak Leaf

Nathan (7, Y2) - Pine branch growth - not sure how he got away without labelling...   

Gregory (9, Y4) - Bark, Hazelnut leaf, fern, and a Big Leaf Maple leaf

Mine - I mostly write in my nature journal, but I do try to stretch myself and sketch at least occasionally.  I'm never very happy about how it turns out though!

Emma (13, Y8) - Maple seed sketches and description